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Interview

Valentino Rossi: MotoGP has returned to the popularity levels before I came along

Despite being retired from motorcycle racing since the end of 2021, Valentino Rossi generates more excitement than any current rider when he visits the MotoGP paddock.

Valentino Rossi, Uccio Salucci, VR46 Racing Team

The nine-time world champion made the trip last weekend to the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez, a circuit that has always been devoted to him.

In addition to signing the contract that makes him a Yamaha ambassador, Rossi witnessed on Sunday the victory of Francesco Bagnaia, one of his pupils in the VR46 Riders Academy, who also regained the championship lead.

On Saturday at Jerez, the rider from Tavullia found time to talk to Autosport about everything related to the championship that made him a legend.

Valentino Rossi, Team VR46 with Oriol Puigdemont, Motorsport.com journalist

Valentino Rossi, Team VR46 with Oriol Puigdemont, Motorsport.com journalist

Photo by: James Allen

Autosport: How has being a father changed your life? Has it helped you to know yourself a little better?

Valentino Rossi: "Being a father is a precious experience. Obviously life changes you, especially the rhythms and some habits, especially in the morning, because you have to wake up early. I waited a long time before deciding to take the step because I thought that combining fatherhood with the demands of the rider was very difficult. Now I think I could have done it sooner. Watching Julieta grow up is a joy."

AS: Have you had any doubts or fears?

VR: "No, not yet; but I imagine that as Julieta gets older things will get more complicated."

AS: You left Honda and signed for Yamaha in 2004, and with that move you showed that in the equation between rider and bike the human component prevailed over the mechanical one. Do you still think the same way?

VR: "Things have changed a lot since then; 20 years have gone by. It is true that the bike counts a lot, but if there is something in which the championship has succeeded is that the performance between some bikes and others is very similar. There are ten riders who can win."

AS: What is the difference between the feeling of putting on the helmet to ride a bike and driving a car?

VR: "It is very similar, but the fear is much less when you get inside the car. The belts are tight and you are surrounded by the protection bars. On a motorcycle, however, the adrenaline release is greater."

#46 Team WRT BMW M4 GT3: Valentino Rossi, Maxime Martin, Augusto Farfus

#46 Team WRT BMW M4 GT3: Valentino Rossi, Maxime Martin, Augusto Farfus

Photo by: Paolo Belletti

AS: Is it possible to get excited inside a car after having raced in MotoGP?

VR: "Yes, I always wanted to race a car because all my life I was a great enthusiast. It gives me great satisfaction to drive a race car. Besides, the ones I drive are competitive, they go very fast. I would say that the sensations it gives me are almost like those of a MotoGP bike."

AS: What has influenced VR46's great start to the 2023 MotoGP season?

VR: "I am very happy with the work that has been done, I am very proud. We started with Moto3 and Moto2, but when you get to MotoGP it becomes much more difficult. It is a lot of responsibility, a lot of people working on the project. But we got it right, Uccio [Salucci] did very well. Little by little we took our trusted people from the paddock, those with whom we were always aligned, and we managed to put together a team that was really VR46, that was VR46 in essence. The results this year have been amazing and show that the job has been done well."

AS: We spoke to Uccio some time ago and he was quite concerned about the situation Franco Morbidelli is going through. How do you see him?

VR: "The next four or five races are a very important period for Franco, because it will be up to him to try to prove that he can be in the factory Yamaha team. The Yamaha is a bike that has problems, but he must try to go at least as fast as [Fabio] Quartararo.

Marco Bezzecchi, VR46 Racing Team

Marco Bezzecchi, VR46 Racing Team

Photo by: Media VR46

AS: The world championship is going through a stage in which the audiences have fallen. What must be done to stop this?

VR: "Something a bit special happened with me, because there were a lot of people who didn't follow motorcycles and then became fans. People both from Italy and the rest of the world. Now, let's say that the popularity levels of the world championship have returned to normal, to the stage before I came along. They are looking for formulas, like sprint races, to attract more people, but in sporting terms I think the championship is working. It's exciting to watch MotoGP races, from the stands or on TV."

AS: But Formula 1 has grown a lot as an event, beyond what happens on the track. Do you think that's the way forward here as well?

VR: "Formula 1 has followed a very American line; something similar to the NBA, very focused on the show. In recent years the popularity it has reached is scary, it is a product of the highest level that everyone wants to consume. I think MotoGP can do it too. How? I don't know anymore. But the potential is there."

AS: What does Yamaha have to do if they want to convince you to let VR46 race its bikes?

VR: "We have a contract until the end of next year, so in 2024 we will race with Ducati. I would like VR46 to race with Yamaha, because I am a Yamaha rider, so it would make sense. The problem is that Yamaha has to find a way to improve the M1. We want to go to the races thinking that we can consider winning or fighting for the podium and, at the moment, Yamaha's technical situation is complicated. They have the potential to improve, and there is still a little time before we decide [for 2025]. But Ducati, since the arrival of [Gigi] Dall'Igna, has really stepped up and raised the technical level. The others have become chasers."

AS: And do you think this change has been technical or also philosophical? I am referring to the relationship with your satellite teams.

VR: "I think yes, there was a rethinking of Ducati, but also a huge economic investment. The Japanese brands have spent less."

AS: And what is your next challenge?

VR: "I want to participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Now I am racing GT cars, but there would also be the possibility of competing there with Hypercar. I would also like to compete again in the 24 Hours of Spa, which I did last year. Then, the 24 Hours of Nurburgring, on the long circuit. Trying to be fast in a car, that's what I want."

Valentino Rossi.

Valentino Rossi.

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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